June 4th, 2013
09:42 PM ET
10 years ago

First lady clashes with protester; threatens to leave event

(CNN) – First lady Michelle Obama had a rare run-in with an audience heckler Tuesday during a fund-raising event in Washington for the Democratic National Committee.

The outburst from the crowd distracted Obama at a point in her speech when she was speaking emotionally about children and their futures, prompting her to threaten to leave if the woman wanted to keep speaking.

"One of the things I don't do well is this," she said, according to a pool reporter who attended the event. Television cameras were not allowed inside.

Obama walked toward the protester, saying she could "listen to me or you can take the mic, but I'm leaving. You all decide. You have one choice," according to the pool report.

The protester was identified as Ellen Sturtz of the gay rights group GetEQUAL. She was calling on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors.

Sturtz was escorted out of the event, held at a private residence in northwest Washington. Tickets for the fund-raiser ranged from $500 to $10,000.

The White House, as it does with many events, released a transcript of her remarks Tuesday night. While the transcript includes the beginning of the first lady's response to the protester–"One of the things that I don't do well is this. Do you understand?"–the transcript does not quote the exchange between the two, which happened away from the microphone.

Early Wednesday morning, Sturtz said in a statement released by GetEQUAL that she had "lived and worked in the closet, hiding who I was in order to earn a living."

"I had planned to speak tonight with DNC officials but, as the First Lady was talking about our childrens' future and ensuring that they have everything they need to live happy and productive lives, I simply couldn't stay silent any longer," Sturtz added. "I'm looking ahead at a generation of young people who could live full, honest, and open lives with the stroke of the President's pen, and I was hoping that the First Lady would share my concern for all of our young people."

The interruption came less than two weeks after President Obama faced a Code Pink protester who loudly advocated for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison during the president's national security speech.

The president, who was making his remarks before cameras and a large audience, handled the situation differently than his wife's confrontation Tuesday night.

"This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak but also you listening and me being able to speak, alright?" Obama said upon the interruption. The president has used the tactic before when interrupted.

The woman, peace activist Medea Benjamin, kept up her protest, which also included a rebuke against American drone strikes that have killed civilians. Obama eventually diverted from his prepared remarks to address the situation head-on.

"The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to," he said. "Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said and obviously she wasn't listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."

READ MORE: Obama heckler: 'Don't call it heckling'

As with most controversial moments, the first lady's exchange with the protester was met with mixed reviews on Twitter, but many embraced her approach.



Filed under: Gay rights • Michelle Obama
soundoff (1,039 Responses)
  1. lottie

    interupting our president and first lady has become very common. Disrespect comes from our elected officials as well. I think she handled it just fine. She is a tough lady and people came to hear her. No reason she should be subject to this. She does not make policy. She can hold her own .

    June 5, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  2. lisequinn

    That is indeed the problem with all the special interests that supported Obama. If their pet peeve was not addressed and resolved within the first 100 days, they started attacking and pulling support – as if the president has a magic wand that he can wave and make congress work.

    June 5, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  3. Katie

    Heckling is disrespectful and not the way to get the attention you want. You ask questions. You write letters. You submit petitions. You make your own passionate speeches. You run for office and put your passion where your mouth is. You don't interrupt other people with your own personal agenda and you certainly don't get points for being rude and disruptive.

    June 5, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  4. Randy

    It strikes me as interesting that there are comments about how hecklers should be polite, yet no such comments were made during the Bush administration. By nature, hecklers are not polite. The way the first lady handled this was childish and immature. It was as if she were throwing a tantrum, sad!

    June 5, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  5. RealVoiceOfReason

    I love how when things don't go the Obama way, they quit. How childish!

    June 5, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  6. Timber72

    Just moreof an insight into what Michelle Obama thinks of her subjects...er, I mean, fellow citizens. She tis part of the crowd...many of whom post here...who think that people who disagree with them are evil and wicked and need to be silenced, if not subjugated.

    Speak out, people. Michelle Obama is PRECISELY who she claims to be against.

    June 5, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  7. lenny

    more royal behavior from the queen herself

    June 5, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  8. Free Dem Money

    Good she deserves it! She has 22 assistants paid for by the tax payers and she constitutionally does nothing for the USA! She should re-pay all that wasted money!

    June 5, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  9. Andrew

    Of all things to heckle Michelle Obama about someone does it over how federal contractors discriminate. That is like going to KFC and telling them that they need to get Mcdonalds to serve better burgers.

    June 5, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  10. Peter

    People here are sometimes don't appreciate what they have, what happens if that person interrupts the Chinese first lady in China?

    June 5, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Carlton

    The Gaystapo knows no shame. No doubt she'll be dubbed a hatemonger now.

    June 5, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Maobama

    How dare a commoner interrupt Queen Obama!

    June 5, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  13. Dustin

    Just goes to show Michelle has NO CLASS

    June 5, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  14. Two Party "System"

    This is top news on lapdog CNN.

    June 5, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  15. NiceMove

    SO first off the heckler was detained at a home in North West Washington. So does anyone want to wonder how that violated her 14th amendment. Since when is it ok to detain someone like that?

    Also people need to learn the difference between a lectern and a podium....

    Now i disagree with a heckler interrupting the speaker, but if there is no other way for them to get their message across at the end of the day the worst that they are guilty of is trespassing or some other misdemeanor.

    to "detain" them in a home in Washington and not in a police station

    That event is a ludicrous violation of rights.

    June 5, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  16. jimmy

    The heckler has already been called into an IRS audit.

    June 5, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. GomerPyle

    Suprise, Suprise....the Obama view of COMPROMISE....you have only ONE choice...take it or leave it....waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

    June 5, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  18. Amy

    Typical right wing heckler.

    June 5, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  19. Tirilei

    Good for Michelle! You go, lady!

    June 5, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  20. Maobama


    "If people is rude and don't have an education is not my problem."

    LOL. Who'd you vote for Amy???

    June 5, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  21. LOL

    And the liberals attack the liberals... lovin' it.

    June 5, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  22. Tim

    This is one of her more "tame" looks, but wow, Michelle can make some of the wildest facial expressions. some of the ones she has made I could have sworn were photoshopped

    June 5, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  23. Jason Guy

    Freedom of speech applies to all. However, respect and integrity is earned and unfortunately some never acquire it.

    June 5, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  24. hambly

    Michelle Obama was reasonable. That person decides she can't be "silent any longer"? About an issue separate from the one being discussed? Opens her mouth at a time when the SPEAKER, meaning the person whose name is on the program, is speaking emotionally about things.

    Lady, you're in the audience. Michelle Obama has the podium. Get it? It's not about you and your bizarre decision that it's time you speak up. No matter how much your cause may need attention, you were in the wrong. You deserved worse. Michelle Obama was easy on you, actually.

    June 5, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  25. Jason Guy

    Well, Freedom of speech applies to all. However, respect and integrity is earned and unfortunately some never acquire it.

    June 5, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
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